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Martyrdom of St. Sebastian

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Charles T. Downey, National Philharmonic performs Debussy’s ‘Le martyre de Saint Sebastien’
Washington Post, May 21, 2012

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Debussy, Le Martyre de Saint Sébastien, I. Huppert (narrator), Orchestre National de France, Chœur de Radio France, D. Gatti
It is a shame that Washingtonians had to wait for the sesquicentennial of Claude Debussy’s birth to hear a local concert of the composer’s incidental music for the mystery play “Le martyre de Saint Sebastien.” Still, at the final performance of the National Philharmonic’s season on Saturday night, the half-filled hall at Strathmore made it easy to see why the ensemble does not often stray from its menu of romantic concertos, classical symphonies and overdone oratorios.

Debussy completed the score on a rushed schedule in 1911, leaving some of the orchestration to his friend Andre Caplet. While not his best work, it has some evocative sounds. The National Philharmonic and Chorale, under conductor Stan Engebretson, packed quite a wallop at the climaxes, but some of the finer details were smudged. Soprano Audrey Luna was a celestial presence, floating the high notes of the Virgin Mary’s aria in the second part and as the soul of Saint Sebastian singing from heaven. Rosa Lamoreaux was strong and confident on the other soprano part and read the French narration of the story with admirable pronunciation. [Continue reading]
Debussy, Le Martyre de Saint Sébastien
National Philharmonic
Music Center at Strathmore

William C. Carter, in his biography of Marcel Proust, describes Proust as "eager to hear the latest work by the creator of Pelléas et Mélisande," a work that he greatly admired. "The occasion held great promise because many of the creators of the Ballets Russes had collaborated on [Le Martyre]. Alas, Proust found the production 'very boring'." Proust's seatmate at the dress rehearsal, Robert de Montesquiou, was much more appreciative. Proust wrote to him: "I was so happy to be able to listen to you during the intermissions and to be beside you during the last act when, wired to your enthusiasm by the electrode of your grip, I was convulsed and transported on my seat as if I had been in an electric chair." Proust later commented to Reynaldo Hahn that Ida Rubinstein struck him as a "a cross between Clomesnil and Maurice de Rothschild, and her legs are sublime."

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